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A Greener Green Party… John Gormley talks about the future in Belfast. Meanwhile… why they won’t be the ethical watchdog MkII in the Fianna Fáil led Coalition February 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Green Party, Northern Ireland.
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An interestingly robust speech from John Gormley in Belfast at the special conference of the Green Party.

Speaking in Belfast at a special regional party agm on Saturday, he insisted only the Greens could offer real opposition to the Sinn Féin/DUP-led Executive at Stormont. He claimed the Northern Ireland Greens, as a political entity, had emerged as a result of the Good Friday agreement.

Is this true? That’s quite a claim to make, and perhaps indicates some effort to take a degree of ‘ownership’ of the process albeit at a remove. They certainly make great play of the way in which the Green Party in Northern Ireland is a ‘Region’ of the Irish Green Party, and yet also has links to the Scottish, Welsh and English parties. Which, in some respects seems weirdly reminiscent of the Socialist Party approach. But, maybe they’re correct. Then it’s on to the current situation.

“The DUP and Sinn Féin have fought their war and signed their treaty. That is their legacy. It is now our turn,” he said.

The term ‘chutzpah’ springs to mind, considering that both those entities command many multiples of the support garnered by the Green Party. But… one has to start somewhere. And it is with at least some sort of an ideology that he does so…

“We are the result of a political climate that soars far above sectarianism or religious identification – climate change, pollution and the challenges of the globalised economy do not stop at national borders. Sectarian politics aimed at one section of the community and not the other is one reason why so many in Northern Ireland feel disaffected – the Green Party offers these people a reason to vote.”

Brave words too, when he said:

“With the entry of the Green Party into government in Dublin, we will deliver not just for voters in the Republic but also for the people of Northern Ireland,” Mr Gormley said.

“Using the cross-Border bodies and other joint initiatives on nuclear power, renewable energy, tourism and GM food, the party in Northern Ireland will approach voters at the next elections with evidence that Green power delivers a better quality of life for all.”

I simply don’t know the terrain that the Green Party in Northern Ireland negotiates well enough to be able to judge how this sort of appeal will play. On the one hand this is all eminently sensible stuff. On the other one might suggest it is the sort of message which might have a certain resonance that would be slightly off-putting to some in the North. After all, however well-intentioned, the idea that Irish Government Ministers are casting their eye across the Border is likely to cause some pause for thought in certain circles. Mind you, the language is precise. ‘Northern Ireland’, ‘cross-Border’. This may indeed not scare the horses.
And this dovetails with a good article in Sundays Business Post by Pat Leahy about the way in which the Green Party has taken the sensible step in government of avoiding becoming the ethical watchdog of Fianna Fáil. They learned well from the Progressive Democrats who foundered upon precisely that issue. As Leahy notes:

The new approach by the Greens to sharing power with Fianna Fail is motivated by the party’s belief in the importance of its own policy agenda. If you believe that you are helping to save the world from potential disaster caused by climate change, it puts the issue of who paid for Bertie Ahern’s curtains in perspective. But the Greens’ approach is also informed by the experience of previous coalition partners of Fianna Fail – and in particular by the combustion of Michael McDowell’s PDs in the last government.

Now there are those, and some are reading this, who disagree profoundly with this analysis. But… it’s sort of sensible if one believes we face an existential threat then, as Leahy notes, Ahern and the North are relegated to a very distant second and third – perhaps in that order.

And that leads to a pragmatism that in a sense puts government at the heart of the project:

The message that the Greens understood was this: if we go into government with Bertie Ahern, it can only be on the basis of waiting for the tribunal to report. We can’t let evidence or leaks or court challenges dominate the business of government.

The Greens were also, say senior sources, heavily influenced by the experience of Green parties in Europe. ‘‘Agree the programme, get the ministries, compromise and say when you can’t do things,” said one source. ‘‘Try to get our stuff done.”

It’s a model of coalition different from anything that Fianna Fail has encountered in the past. ‘‘Basically, we’ve seen that approach doesn’t work,” said Dan Boyle, a senator and influential figure within the party.

I’m genuinely intrigued as to how long this can run. It seems to me that it might be for quite a while, but time will tell. Certainly the Green Party appear to be digging in. As Leahy also notes:


Besides, as one Green source pointed out, when the party’s ministers are looking from the government benches at the opposition hyperventilating about how the Greens are failing to keep Fianna Fail honest, the thought often occurs to them: do we really want to do what our enemies want us to do?

It’s a fair point. And always important to remember that no one group holds the franchise on the belief that their way and their way alone is the true expression of the public good. And wow, the Greens have that in bucket loads. Gormley said at the weekend that:

“It is up to us now to get out there, to spread the word, to recruit more members and to compete aggressively and confidently in elections. We are members of the most progressive, responsible and dynamic political movement on this island, in these islands, and across the world.”

Now it may be misplaced confidence, but the polls so far support them.

As it happens I have a reasonably nice year planner from the Green Party which has photo’s and contact details of their current elected representatives including Brian Wilson (Member of the Legislative Assembly – and believe it or not apparently a member of the NILP back in the day, later on the Alliance Party and later still and Independent. A heart in all the right places, more or less.). I like the way in which they’re forging something of a broad based, all island(s) approach, but… we’ve seen how socialism didn’t quite go the distance to bridging the gap between communities. Being the old cynic that I am I tend to be dubious that environmentalism or Green philosophy will somehow do better.

Still, this is a different age. Perhaps if Gormley does soft-pedal the one phrase he didn’t use clearly in the above quotes, that of ‘national identification’, he and the Green Party will be fine. Perhaps. But maybe to come to terms with the situation it will be necessary to actually engage with that very issue.

Comments»

1. ejh - February 19, 2008

Michael McDowell’s PDs

Was that its official title, or is it one of those media-titles like “Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United”?

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2. Conor McCabe - February 19, 2008

With regard to Pat Leahy. The word “pragmatism” is bounded around a lot these days when it comes to the Greens, but, where´s the evdence? A party that cannot protect its own back yard (as is the case with John Gormley and Poolbeg), and cannot protect Tara (even with the backing of the EU), prouldy proclaims that its off to save the world, and that it CAN save the world, and for some that´s progressive and pragmatic? It cannot implemnent its own policies in government for Christ´s sake, and yet it believes that it can save the planet?

I dunno. The last time I checked the dictionary, the definition of “pragmatism” was not “the ability to suck FF cock”. However, in Irish politics, that seems to be the case. Not only that, it´s a definition that´s applauded as “that´s the way things are”.

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3. ejh - February 19, 2008

I think the idea is that the Greens should suck up to FF because they “need to be more pragmatic”, while media commentators should not, because FF is the old Ireland that they’re against.

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4. Barry - February 19, 2008

I don’t understand the last comment, but, whatever….

I would agree that the Gs shouldn’t try to be FF ethical conscience, since FF doesn’t know the meaning of ethics. The Gs are in there because FF decided they’d look good and they can be blamed if the economy turns down because of climate change…..They are starry eyed at being in Gov and there is no hope for Gormless, he is just a pol who likes the limelight and his speech in Belfast shows how far he is from reality, he couldn’t make in the RoI….

The real disappointment is Ryan, he started well, with the upgrading of the housing spec., etc., but his performance of broadband is a disgrace, mouthing the already discredited data of ComReg.

It remains to be seen what the upcoming conf in Dundalk brings, it will be hard for them to gag the reluctants.

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5. chekov - February 19, 2008

We don’t have the power to keep our government partner remotely honest, so we’re going to concentrate on achieving a far-reaching revolutionary transformation of our economy, which will inevitably be in serious conflict with their agenda.

Anybody see galaxy-sized logical flaw in this?

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6. Pidge - February 19, 2008

Well, I would have thought that FF are somewhat unusual in that they are more wedded to popularity and their people than their policies. Their agenda is their people. A policy shift could well be easier than a leadership shift (especially considering the person/people who decide policy shifts in FF).

I certainly don’t think that a revolutionary transformation of the economy can be achieved with FF (I’m not sure if I, eh, want one tbh), but I think even less can be achieved on the opposition benches. (That’s become something of a tired line at this stage, but – for me – it still rings true.)

As for the ethical conscience thing, I’m glad to see an open recognition of the Green strategy in the media. If people want to see clean parties in government, then they should bloody vote for them – it’s unreasonable for people to vote FF and then hope that others will do the cleaning for them.

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7. Conor McCabe - February 19, 2008

They think they´re bishops, and they don´t even get to pick the hymns.

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8. Damian O'Broin - February 19, 2008

Have to disagree with you Conor, I think they’re being incredibly pragmatic. From where I’m standing it seems they have one bottom line – get as much stuff implemented to deal with climate change as possible. And everything else – Tara, poolbeg, Shannon, Bertie’s behaviour – can be dropped if need be.

For their core voters, I think this is actually a good strategy. If they can show real movement on climate change and energy policy in 4 years time their base will be happy.

I’m less sure about their softer supporters – left/liberals who see them as an alternative to Labour / Fine Gael / Whoever. They may not be happy with the compromises and that’s what might sink them at the next general.

But then, they’re not just trying to get elected, they’re trying to save the world!

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9. WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2008

I’d partially echo what you say Damian, … the trope of the past ten years or so was that the PDs were the tail wagging the FF dog. Well, they were pushing an open door ideologically, yet they clearly had a huge influence. Is it credible to argue that the Green Party would have no influence in government? As regards Tara etc, go look again at the EU statement. Not quite the support for the anti-motorway campaign as it first seemed and far far from being something that would turn the tide vis the FF/FG/etc, support for it (and are people suggesting that an FG government would have acted significantly differently on that issue, or indeed on the incinerator because they were the only other game in town had they and Labour made up the numbers… which… er they didn’t).

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10. joemomma - February 19, 2008

“Is this true? That’s quite a claim to make, and perhaps indicates some effort to take a degree of ‘ownership’ of the process albeit at a remove”

I don’t think it’s that big a claim – he’s not saying the Greens are the GFA party or anything, just that the link-up between North and South wouldn’t have been possible before the GFA.

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11. joemomma - February 19, 2008

“The real disappointment is Ryan, he started well, with the upgrading of the housing spec., etc., but his performance of broadband is a disgrace, mouthing the already discredited data of ComReg”

If by “housing spec” you mean the new building standards, that was Gormley.

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12. Conor McCabe - February 19, 2008

The FG alternative is a straw man. The Greens aren´t needed to make up the numbers anyway. What I´m talking about is definitions of “pragmatism” here.

I mean, it´s a complete farce to say that the Greens are pragmatic to want to tackle global warming when they cannot even get their own policies implemented at national level.

What power do the Irish Greens have that they can save the planet? Have they been sipping kyptonite on the sly?

If they have power to change anything, surely it would reveal itself in the areas in which they actually have juristiction? Or is it only pragmatic to want to change things in areas for which you have no juristiction. I mean, we´re talking about a party that cannot wield power within its own ministries for Christ´s sake. Where is the credibility in saying, “we´ll save the planet” after that?

Put it this way, the Greens dropped the Kenny report from their manifesto quicker than a whore´s knickers once power was mentioned to them.

Everyone knows that the fault line in the Irish economy is the dominance of land speculation and construction, and yet, the Irish Greens, in the most patronizing way possible, ignore all of that and instead harp on about global warming because it´s easier to talk about that than geting hard, pragmatic, things done for your country, like, oh I dunno, tackling land speculation?

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13. Garibaldy - February 19, 2008

I’m with Conor on the opportunism of the Greens. And the idea that the north south link up was impossible before the GFA seems to me frankly silly.

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14. WorldbyStorm - February 19, 2008

The point though Conor is not a distinction between no progress and total progress, but no progress and some progress. That’s true of any coalition arrangement. Indeed that would be true as well of a coalition of the left between left parties. My point is that from the GP perspective they made a rational decision (indeed there is an argument that if they waited another five years they might have returned in a weakened state so from their sense of survival there was perhaps some imperative). We may not like it, but it is reasonable by their own lights.

Garibaldy, again, I don’t know enough about the character of the GP in the North… has there been an aspect of the broader national identity issue that has impinged on them in your experience?

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15. joemomma - February 19, 2008

” the idea that the north south link up was impossible before the GFA seems to me frankly silly.”
Why so? The Greens in the north seem to be fishing out of a predominantly unionist/Alliance pool – I don’t think its members would have been keen to become part of an all-Ireland party pre-GFA. Like I said, it’s not much more significant than that.

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16. Conor McCabe - February 19, 2008

Sorry WBS, I´m not talking about the Greens decision to go into government, I´m talking about the use of “pragmatism” that´s being banded about with regard to the Greens in general.

I´m saying that I can not see any evidence of pragmatism at all. In fact, what I see is a great dollop of delusion.

The Greens cannot expect to be taken seriously when they say that they are able to tackle global warming when they cannot even get their own policies implemented in a government in which they form a part.

My criticism of the Greens is not that they went into government, my criticism of them is their almost complete inability to use that position of power to get their policies across. The only ones they say that they can influence over are ones relating to global warming! I mean, come on, that´s daft. The Greens have had more than their 100 days in office.

The Greens have developed two strategies to tackle criticism of their approach to government. One is the “stick to the global planet” route, the other is “pragmatism”. On both counts, well, they fail. This has nothing to so with their decision to go into government, This has to do with the decisions they´ve taken AFTER they´ve gone into government.

Every other party that forms a government gets judged that way, so why give the Greens a free ticket?

It seems to suit the Greens at this point to keep on talking about criticism of their decisions as if we´re still in the first few days after government formation. We´re not. And neither are my criticisms. What galls me is the fact that the Greens want all the trappings of power, but none of the responsibility.

They have renaged on almost everything and have the cheek to call it “pragmatism”. They may not like it, but that´s the way it is.

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17. joemomma - February 19, 2008

“This has nothing to so with their decision to go into government, This has to do with the decisions they´ve taken AFTER they´ve gone into government.”

Any particular decisions you want to specify?

You mention the Kenny report, which is an interesting one. As a matter of principle I’d like to see something like Kenny implemented, but I’m not certain land speculation is as big an issue as it was 5-10 years ago. The obscene profits from dodgy rezonings have been made, and there does seem to be a move towards consolidation. Gormley has shown he’s not going to let local authorities away with zoning vast swathes of land speculatively.

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18. Conor McCabe - February 20, 2008

Well, I am being a bit unfair. I mean, who can forget the potato growing contest launched by Trevor Sargent two weeks ago, and the potato growing kit that´s been sent to every national school. Or Eamonn Ryan´s approach to broadband rollout, or the stern rebuke he issued to land speculators to, you know, get real. Or water charges for schools, or the fact that John Gormley, who scrapped home last time on a handful of votes – and not a few of them from anti-incinerator voters – repays that by allowing the plant to go ahead. The fact that Gormley also told us all that his hands were tied on Tara because, well, FF told him so.

As for land speculation not being the issue it was ten years ago, well, yeah, sorry, it is. Why do you think national roads in Ireland have such a bent shape? You´ve got to have the roads going near the land where the speculators are speculating, so they can bet the pay-off they´re waiting for. Given the fact that the national development plan is going ahead, you can be damn sure that we´ll get more wonky roads built in order to satisify the speculators.

Kenny is not a matter of principle. It´s about whether the infastructure of this country is developed to meet a speculator´s map, or an engineer´s one – ´cos the maps aint the same.

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19. Conor McCabe - February 20, 2008

There´s a bit more on the Greens and broadband over on Damien Mulley´s site. Damien talks about how Ryan has lied about the issue.

http://www.mulley.net/2008/02/11/lying-ryan-eamon-ryan-flat-out-lies-on-morning-ireland-about-broadband/

I’m beginning to think that Bertie is great for the Greens as he’s keeping them out of the headlines. As always, bloggers are taking up the slack.

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20. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2008

Ah well Conor, I at least have the luxury of not having to defend them, not being a member!

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21. Conor McCabe - February 20, 2008

🙂 All I´m saying, though, WBS, is that at the moment they are using quite definite methods to avoid responsibility for decisions they have taken in government. One is to treat all criticisms as if they are criticisms of the decision to enter government, the other is to wave “pragmatism” and hope it will stick.

The Green´s decision to enter government was not pragmatic, it was opportunistic. I mean, they´re not even needed, numbers-wise. Simply opportunisitc. Now, since they´ve entered government, what have they done? Continue with the balls-up that is broadband roll-out, send potato-growing kits to under-resourced national schools, and made it known that, for speculators, the show continues. My favourite line is from Minister Eamonn Ryan who has told speculators and builders to please, please change because, you know “Government can only do so much.”

They are still thinking and acting as a lobby group. They still have not realised that they can make laws. Their attitude to developers and speculators is to treat them as the real power. The Greens are actually using their position in government to lobby the builders and speculators to change. They have cut their own balls off in order to send potato-making packs out to schools. It´s incredible. They have bought the FF line that you cannot touch builders and speculators in Ireland. The very people who are undermining our infastructure and our economy are to be given a blank cheque to carry on – making billions in land sold at “market price” to the government, and paid for with taxpayers money, in order to build overbudget roads. It´s a fucking scam. Pragmatic my arse.

By the way, none of this has to do with Green issues, and everything to do with the people currently in charge of the Irish Green party. They are a mediocre bunch. Their record so far in government shows exactly that. Not pragmatism, simply mediocrity.

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22. chekov - February 20, 2008

While I’d broadly agree with Conor, I think he’s ever so slightly wrong in saying that they have real law-making power. The reason for them resorting to embarrassing stuff like pleading with developers instead of legislating is because they know, deep down, that if they tried to do anything meaningful with their ministries, they would be monstered by their coalition partners and by the propaganda wing of IBEC (i.e. the media).

The idea that they can reverse the trend of greenhouse emissions without taking on Fianna Fail is just fairytale stuff. I doubt whether they even believe it themselves, they’ve just deluded themselves into thinking that their presence in government is, by itself, a good thing for the environment.

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23. Conor McCabe - February 20, 2008

Well, there´s a difference between having power and the consequences of using it. The Greens have the power to legislate, but I suppose they feel it more “pragmatic” not to use it. We´re back to sucking FF cock again.

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24. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2008

Conor, got to disagree with you re ‘a mediocre bunch’. I think, and I’ve dealt with many of them, that they’re actually quite clued in. Whether though you are correct about pragmatism is an interesting issue. I tend to think that your interpretation misses some aspects, ie. Tara/incinerator, they’re clearly not able to do so. Vis broadband, that’s a different matter. But chekov, I’d disagree that they’re unable to do anything, say re emissions. Simply by being in government they make the discourse on that matter more acceptable and credible. Not to everyone, obviously, but to more people. It legitimises the debate in a way that they on the outside simply couldn’t do. That of course doesn’t mean that they will get what they want, or perhaps even near to it. But it’s arguably better than had they been outside unless we accept the proposition that no change is somehow superior to some change.

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25. Ed Hayes - February 20, 2008

Conor, you do have a thing about fellatio with Fianna Failers don’t you? How do you know Gormley and co are not just taking it up the ozone layer?

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26. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2008

Hmmm….

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27. chekov - February 20, 2008

WBS: “It legitimises the debate in a way that they on the outside simply couldn’t do.”

I don’t know about that, I’d say that on balance it is the opposite. There are a hell of a lot of people who distrust something as soon as a politician is seen to be behind it (which is why many modern political groups form themselves into think tanks and so on). I mean, this is actually empirically verified when you look at the contrasting levels of public trust in, say, politicians versus academics or just ordinary campaigners.

I know that people who are deeply interested in politics sometimes miss this, but politicos are widely assumed to lie all the time. In my experience those who were skeptical are far, far, more likely to have the issue legitimised by something like the IPCC reports. In fact I’d challenge you to find a single person in the country who thinks that the greens being in government has legitimised the global warming problem for them.

Also, the idea that the problem of climate change needs to be legitimised at this stage is quite strange to me. If people are not convinced by the IPCC, then there’s no hope for them at all, they are either total idiots or completely dishonest and there’s hardly much point on bothering to try to convince them. After all of the UN reports and the overwhelming scientific consensus, the problem is not to convince people that it’s a problem, but to come up with ways of addressing the problem. Imploring people to be good is actually counter-productive since it obscures the fact that solutions are, quite obviously, going to have to be applied at a societal level and most people really don’t have a hell of a lot of consumer choice anyway.

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28. Conor McCabe - February 20, 2008

It goes back to what they have done though, hasn’t it? I mean, there´s a tradition in America of the first 100 days, and, well, what have the Greens done? I do not think it´s true to say that the Greens in office legitimises green issues, ´cos. well, the work´s already been done on that point. At this stage, there´s hardly a person outside of the lunatic right who thinks that global warming is not an issue. Even at that, the argument of legitimacy is one of a lobby / protest group, not of a political party. You´ve got to have at least some legitimacy in order to get votes. The point here is that the Geeens have no real interest in getting their hands dirty. They want power, and they want an easy time, and if that means selling tofu at the Galway tent, they´ll do it.

I mean, there’s something of the “coffee mornings to stop poverty” about the Irish Greens – at least this bunch anyway. Well-meaning but dumb-ass soilutions to fundamental societal problems. What´s laudable about that?

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29. WorldbyStorm - February 20, 2008

I – obviously – disagree. Two points, firstly I think it’s a massive simplification to look at ‘trust’ in groups and draw a direct line from that to the perception of issues. And the corollary of that is that even within the constrained limits the Greens have there is clear room for movement on specific issues. Moreover, note that the Greens have seen increases in their vote share since the election, sustained at that. Incidentally, I tend to think that climate change is only a part of Green philosophy, so again I wouldn’t be so reductionist.

Secondly, the 100 days. That’s to me simply a media fabrication. Why 100 days and not 365 or indeed more logically a full term of five years.

Thirdly, government is per se a different form of legitimacy to seeking votes. I know, and again have dealt with numerous politicians who have never made it to government. Of all of them the most pragmatic was probably Gregory, but even still. The legitimacy, the aura of achievability wasn’t there. A Green party in power is a different animal to a Green party in opposition.

Fourthly, the obvious question is, what other progressive, or near progressive voice is there in the government, and do you (both) genuinely believe the situation of the Irish people would be better if they weren’t there?

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30. chekov - February 20, 2008

1. While the blanket measurement of trust, as reported by surveys is obviously a huge simplification and only goes so far in terms of its empirical value, it is infinitely better than what you offer in return – which is, erm, nothing at all beyond an assertion.

2. Vote share clearly doesn’t measure one’s success at delivering climate change solutions (or any other environmental solutions). In fact, there’s a decent argument that, for a party that is virtually entirely focused on media coverage for information dissemination, it is correlated more with how little of a threat the media sees to the status quo.

3. The aura of achievability isn’t much use if you don’t have any hope of achieving anything – in fact it’s counter-productive.

4. I don’t really recognise any force without a class analysis as ‘progressive’, so it’s a bit of a moot point and I think an environmentalism without an appreciation of class is as much use as prince charles – negative.
3

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31. Conor McCabe - February 21, 2008

Well, again that´s the point the Greens make. They turn any criticism of their performance in government into a question of whether they should have gone into government or not.

Why can´t we look at their performance so far and judge it on its own terms? I mean, what have they done since attaining power to justify the label of “pragmatic”? They haven´t become the moral guardians of FF for one very simple reason; unlike with the PDs last time, FF can tell the Greens to piss off. Bertie formed two working coalitions this time, and the Greens know it. I´d hardly call having a decision taken out of your hands as a sign of “pragmatism.”

I mean, it´s been 9 months since the election, and the Greens are STILL harping on about “should we have gone into government? Well, we did goddamit!!” My God!! It´s more than a bit like Bertie´s famous RTE interview when he kept on harping on about his separation, ´cos he was in danger of spending the entire interview without getting to mention it.

As it was, I applauded the Greens decision not to enter into pre-election pacts, and I wish that Labour had done the same. I also saw nothing wrong in their negotiations with FF, and their subsequent deal. It was the logical conclusion of the no pre-election pact. You see how the cards fall, and you play them.

My criticisms are based on what´s happened since then. I mean, a grant for loft-insulation seemed to be the key aspect of the government pact, and since then we´ve had the Greens harping on about saving the world from resource exploiters, when they can´t even do that in the very government of which they form a part.

bottom line: the Greens are simply evading their responsibilities. The Greens could be a progressive voice in government, but they´re not. Ok. They´ve been busy rearranging the deck chairs – loft insulation and stricter guidelines etc – but as far as anything substantial goes, they are completely neutered.

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32. Conor McCabe - February 21, 2008

Oh. and cocksucker. That´s for Ed hayes. 🙂

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33. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

Chekov. It’s actually not just an assertion. Look to the interface between state and citizen and the reality is that it is indeed politicians who are, time and again (and I have direct experience of this across a range of areas) who are looked to. On a rhetorical level I don’t doubt the surveys. On a functional level I think they’re hot air – and as a counter argument, journalists score near equally low and yet somehow the public consumes papers with relish.

Secondly, not entirely sure where vote share enters into the equation if you’re discussing my sequential points. I’m directly addressing Conor’s point about a 100 days which to my mind links into a media discourse, not a political one. That that discourse is one born in the US tells me all I need to know about it (that’s not a dig at Conor incidentally).

Thirdly, that’s a gnomic formulation. But if we parse it out what precisely does it mean? You’re presupposing from an ideological position that those engaged within representational politics of the sort normalised in this state cannot achieve anything. I think that’s an eminently respectable (and in some respects sensible) position. However, I disagree with it. You don’t subscribe to that sort of representational politics, so we’re talking at cross purposes.

Again, I disagree. I have many many problems with the Green Party, not least is their ‘middle class’ aspect, but… to again presuppose that simply because of that they’re incapable of being ‘progressive’ strikes me as being an interesting and arguable proposition. There are many formations way beyond the working class which in one form or another can act in progressive ways. To move towards class as the single determinant is too limited. Better to say that it is a primary determinant, but not the only one. And really, would you argue that, say organisations that campaign for gay and lesbian rights are somehow not progressive when those self-same campaigns are by no means class based?

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34. Conor McCabe - February 21, 2008

Oh dig dig dig!!! I’ve been offline for too long and havn’t had a decent row in ages!!! 🙂

Seriously, though, what I´m talking about WBS is a media discourse as well. I mean, this whole thing about pragmatism came about from Pat Leahy and the Sunday Business Post. Again, I don´t see any evidence about pragmatism from the things they have put in place, or are about to put in place. you have to have a leaver in a coalition in order to get your things done. The Greens do not have a leaver. They know it. And they are not getting things done, except for the Bay Windows lot.

And I believe that it is possible to get things done in politics. Politics matters. That´s the reason why businessmen have been paying out millions to Irish politicians for years – they recognise how important politics really is in getting your agenda across.

The Greens have engaged with power, but they´ve done it so cheaply that it´s an embarrasment. And I don´t see that as pragmatic at all.

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35. chekov - February 21, 2008

WBS, again point by point
1. While people may look to representatives to get things done by the state apparatus (which is fairly sensible), that does not say that they see their opinions as legitimising issues – all the evidence, such as it is, suggests that they don’t. Similarly readership of newspapers does not imply that the readers think what they are reading is true. Newspapers mostly peddle entertainment in a very explicit way nowadays.

2. That was actually responding to part of your first point, where you argued that their vote share was increasing. I reckon that there is a good chance that the greens will leave government with an increased vote share, especially if they have no substantial environmental achievements.

3. It is not premised on one agreeing with my analysis of the state, it is based on the total inability of anybody at all to point out how, in practical terms the greens can achieve any meaningful change in terms of emissions and stuff like that. I mean, by anybody’s reckoning, reversing carbon emissions is a far, far harder job which will cut across far, far more powerful agendas than attempting to keep some thin veneer of propriety in government. They acknowledge that they are not in a position to achieve the later, how on earth can anybody believe they will achieve the former is beyond me.

4. I’m not talking about them being middle class and I’m not even using a weberian/sociological class framework at all. It’s good old fashioned socialist class that I’m talking about – identifying the ruling class as the capitalists and the rest as workers, with a smaller group having elements of both. If you don’t have such an analysis, you delude yourself into thinking that most people have meaningful decision making power over stuff like the shape of the economy.

This is different than such things as gay rights because it is fundamentally a question not of state recognition or individual attitudes, it is about the economy and who exactly makes decisions. By and large capitalists don’t care at all about stuff like gay rights, some are for it (most I’d say), some are against it. But when it comes to something like climate change, all the important decision making power is basically in the hands of the industrialists and their state representatives. You can do whatever you like but unless you force them to change their practices, you are never going to achieve anything meaningful.

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36. Garibaldy - February 21, 2008

Is the 100 Days US in origins? Or does it refer to originally not to FDR but to our old friend, Napoleone Buonaparte between his return from exile and Waterloo?

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37. Garibaldy - February 21, 2008

Oh, yeah. And isn’t the left supposed to think that FF sucks cock?

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38. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

1. While people may look to representatives to get things done by the state apparatus (which is fairly sensible), that does not say that they see their opinions as legitimising issues – all the evidence, such as it is, suggests that they don’t. Similarly readership of newspapers does not imply that the readers think what they are reading is true. Newspapers mostly peddle entertainment in a very explicit way nowadays.

It’s not direct relationship, but an indirect one, rather similar to advertising. “Mythic” discourses do shape public opinion. The terms of political debate, set by political and social elites, are linked directly into those discourses. And the evidence for that in this particular instance is how “green” issues moved in a relatively short space of time from fringe to centrality within the society. That doesn’t mean that they’re are given predominant or overwhelming weight, simply that legtimisation does occur. And for more on that look at the post on the British Social Attitudes survey which deals explicitly with the result of changing discourses.

2. That was actually responding to part of your first point, where you argued that their vote share was increasing. I reckon that there is a good chance that the greens will leave government with an increased vote share, especially if they have no substantial environmental achievements.

Apologies, too late really last night for me to be responding, eyes tired, etc, etc. My point would be that while you can suggest that mistrust is endemic, I can equally point to rising vote share/popularity. This contradiction – with the stated popularity of politicians – (and I don’t for one minute believe that somehow the GP shed all its previous support and gained new support) at the very least indicates a tad more complexity to the issue than your original point.

3. It is not premised on one agreeing with my analysis of the state, it is based on the total inability of anybody at all to point out how, in practical terms the greens can achieve any meaningful change in terms of emissions and stuff like that. I mean, by anybody’s reckoning, reversing carbon emissions is a far, far harder job which will cut across far, far more powerful agendas than attempting to keep some thin veneer of propriety in government. They acknowledge that they are not in a position to achieve the later, how on earth can anybody believe they will achieve the former is beyond me.

But again, since you’re coming at this from a position that they can’t per definition make political changes (that would satisfy you), or at least that’s what I read from your critique, it seems a little unfair to say that they’re not making any changes. Self-evidently they are. Whether those are significant enough or not will depend on the long run. As for propriety etc in government being less difficult than some movement on emissions I think that is to misinterpret the internal culture of FF and the self-perception of some of our leading FF politicians. That culture/perception is to my mind rooted in the personal (otherwise how to explain the frankly crazy damage this is causing to FF itself), although it has links in the political I actually think that on a purely political level in tandem with the push green issues are getting in a European and global context you’re simply incorrect and that the GP can make much more progress than trying to be some sort of ethical watchdog over Ahern. Incidentally, let me bring this back to a different but also central issue. I actually agree with the GP that it is the Tribunal that should decide these matters – even if only for the sake of stable government. That said I have no time at all for Aherns bobbing and weaving on these issues and would prefer he departed the stage.

4. I’m not talking about them being middle class and I’m not even using a weberian/sociological class framework at all. It’s good old fashioned socialist class that I’m talking about – identifying the ruling class as the capitalists and the rest as workers, with a smaller group having elements of both. If you don’t have such an analysis, you delude yourself into thinking that most people have meaningful decision making power over stuff like the shape of the economy.

Ouch!

This is different than such things as gay rights because it is fundamentally a question not of state recognition or individual attitudes, it is about the economy and who exactly makes decisions. By and large capitalists don’t care at all about stuff like gay rights, some are for it (most I’d say), some are against it. But when it comes to something like climate change, all the important decision making power is basically in the hands of the industrialists and their state representatives. You can do whatever you like but unless you force them to change their practices, you are never going to achieve anything meaningful.

Your original statement was quite explicit in that you mentioned a ‘force without a class analysis’. Perhaps that was too sweeping and required definition within your original comment? In any event, I’m dubious of that proposition. Our society is made up of many many such organisations which on one level have little or no class analysis and yet function progressively, or not. Moreover, we have organisations that have far too much class analysis and arguably function quite anti-progressively. Even if we look at the structures of power and capitalism I think you’ll find that your definition is far too reductionist. Who is in, who is out? It would require a lot more than a single generalised statement to be convincing – again this is one context where complexity is so great as to render such simplifications all but useless (although I can see their appeal in debate). But to then suggest that the Green Party which has clear left/centre strands is somehow not progressive, whatever its political tactics, is simply painting too many people – and as importantly their supporters – out of a broad progressive grouping. I disagree entirely. The Green Party does provide a transformative programme of sorts which is arguably in direct competition with many aspects of capitalism. That it is unable to implement such a programme is as much due to its small size and relative political marginalisation (although that is changing). Incidentally a useful reader on this is Andre Gorz whose Farewell to the Working Class has a final chapter which deals with just how a red/green approach could change society. What I find most striking about it these days is how much of that thinking has been assimilated.

Garibaldly, no, I hope that leftists analyse carefully what the nature of each formation is and how that can change dependent on circumstance etc…

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39. chekov - February 21, 2008

Just a final wee comment in response to 3 and 4.

3. There’s nothing per definition about it. By the green party’s own analysis before the election, it is completely and totally impossible to reverse emission trends without a fundamental reconstitution of our energy and transport policies. That’s not a contraversial position, it’s just totally obvious. It is also, to my mind anyway, totally obvious that this is just so much harder to achieve than replacing the leader of the government. It would require policies which would piss off pretty much all the powerful interests in the country (construction industry, energy multinationals). If you really think that FF’s culture is a more formidable opponent than the Irish capitalist class, you leave materialist analysis behind and wonder off into some sort of metaphysical idealism as the basis of your analysis.

I’m willing to bet any money at all that this government will not achieve any reduction in emissions. I’m not willing to bet that Ahern won’t be replaced. Any takers?

4. I am not putting forward an argument that socialist class defines everything – not at all. What has always distinguished anarchist concepts of class from the marxists is that anarchists have always held that there are other important classification systems which reveal significant power relations in our society (e.g. gender, sexuality, race, liberalism…). My point is that, if you don’t have the ability to analyse society in terms of socialist class, then you are never going to understand how economic decisions in our society are made. This class view doesn’t require you to be able to neatly divide every single person up into one of two camps – lots of people can contain contradictions within their own positions. It is an analysis that focuses on broad trends and forces. It is important because once you focus on this conception of class, you see that, when it comes to economic matters, all the decision making power is essentially contained within one of the classes. This analysis is important because without it, you end up making moral appeals to people who have virtually no decision making power at all and relying on moral calls to a class which operates according to a system of profit which doesn’t include a moral dimension at all.

You end up appealling for developers to be nice – which is totally pointless since the one who ignores you is the one who will prosper and end up building the houses. You also end up appealling for people who are just about surviving and staying sane to make sacrifices which will have virtually zero effect anyway.

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40. ejh - February 21, 2008

What has always distinguished anarchist concepts of class from the marxists is that anarchists have always held that there are other important classification systems which reveal significant power relations in our society

Oh aye.

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41. chekov - February 21, 2008

ejh: another pointlessly rude and content free comment from yourself.

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42. ejh - February 21, 2008

No, not rude, but short and casting doubt upon your assertion above (this being the content).

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43. ejh - February 21, 2008

The point being that it’s a manifestly false assertion that the categories you mentioned have been overlooked by Marxists. Or, for that matter, that they’ve “always” been observed by anarchists.

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44. chekov - February 21, 2008

It is totally rude to expect other people to infer one’s point from a two-word snarky comment. Since you have now actually made a point, I can respond to it.

I totally accept your point that not all marxists have totally overlooked other classifications – indeed the SWP are one notable example of an avowedly Marxist group who have not. However, it is also uncontestable that the mainstream of Marxist thought (i.e. the orthodox communist parties and even some of the more traditional trotskyist outfits) have traditionally relegated such classifications to fringe benefits and that anarchists have consistently been called “petit bourgeois” by such marxists for raising such non-economic class issues. If, for example, you look at the stuff produced by the WP or CPI, you will see it in spades. Even the SP treated much of the various identity-based liberation movements since the 60s as a distraction from class.

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45. ejh - February 21, 2008

Well, among the contestables would be:

a. that the tradional communist parties necessarily represent the “mainstream” of Marxist thought ;

b. that they’ve necessarily “relegated such classifications to fring benefits” ;

c. that anarchists have “always” done otherwise.

Quite a lot of conflation – and a cetain amount of historical deletion – would have to be involved to come to these conclusions.

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46. chekov - February 21, 2008

a. Unless you are using a totally different definition of mainstream to the one normally used, that’s pretty much incontestable.

b.They haven’t necessarily, they have though.

c. Not always, but generally and traditionally.

God you are tedious sometimes. If you want to make an argument, go and make it, I simply can’t be bothered to do work to refute your arguments if you won’t even make the effort to make them.

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47. ejh - February 21, 2008

pretty much incontestable.

Well, only if one thinks that Marxism only exists in the period between the middle Twenties and the middle Fifties of the previous century.

I’m sorry if you find it “tedious” but like a lot of anarchists you tend, in my view, to produce sweeping and one-sided conclusions which don’t tend to stand up to historical examination. If I don’t take the claims of anarchists as seriously as anarchists would like (and in my experience, it’s not being taken seriously that anarchists really can’t stand) then I tend to view that as largely the fault of those making the claims rather than of those who examine them.

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48. chekov - February 21, 2008

yawn.

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49. Conor McCabe - February 21, 2008

By the way, around 23% of the national roads authority´s construction budget will be spent on compensating land owners. About 5 billion euros.

The shelving of the Kenny report has cost the Irish taxpayer billions over the years, and is going to cost the Irish taxpayer another 5 billion as well.

Not to worry, though, the pragmatic Greens have sent a potato-growing kit to every national school.

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50. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

Just a final wee comment in response to 3 and 4.

3. There’s nothing per definition about it. By the green party’s own analysis before the election, it is completely and totally impossible to reverse emission trends without a fundamental reconstitution of our energy and transport policies. That’s not a contraversial position, it’s just totally obvious. It is also, to my mind anyway, totally obvious that this is just so much harder to achieve than replacing the leader of the government. It would require policies which would piss off pretty much all the powerful interests in the country (construction industry, energy multinationals). If you really think that FF’s culture is a more formidable opponent than the Irish capitalist class, you leave materialist analysis behind and wonder off into some sort of metaphysical idealism as the basis of your analysis.

Two thoughts. Firstly the GP may well have exaggerated the difficulties for clear political ends. And from that one has to wonder what fundamental reconstitution is? Does it require the existential conflict that you propose will be attendant or can it be done with less conflict? I’m boring, I know, on these matters, but I suspect that the latter is probably the case… that there will of necessity be pain, but that this won’t be excruciating. Secondly, I’m talking in reference to FF’s internal culture to the specific issue of Ahern and his travails. The broader issue of the Irish capitalist class? Well, you’ve already wiped the GP off the table as regards presenting either a functional or ideological challenge to that class, so it seems odd to devote any time to what to you must be purely shadowboxing in Cabinet and elsewhere which begs the question why they raise your ire? Surely they’re just more patsy’s of the ruling class? Effectivity though is a different argument, can the GP be effective? Too soon to tell is my suggestion.

I’m willing to bet any money at all that this government will not achieve any reduction in emissions. I’m not willing to bet that Ahern won’t be replaced. Any takers?

I don’t bet. But I’d be surprised if by 2012 there had been no progress on the issue of emissions. If only because the inherent dynamic of electoral politics demands that the GP can demonstrate some progress on that very issue. Otherwise I’d see them walking before the end of the term in government. And that too relates directly to notions of legitimacy. Their credibility in government is shot without evidence that their presence in government has an impact.

4. I am not putting forward an argument that socialist class defines everything – not at all. What has always distinguished anarchist concepts of class from the marxists is that anarchists have always held that there are other important classification systems which reveal significant power relations in our society (e.g. gender, sexuality, race, liberalism…). My point is that, if you don’t have the ability to analyse society in terms of socialist class, then you are never going to understand how economic decisions in our society are made. This class view doesn’t require you to be able to neatly divide every single person up into one of two camps – lots of people can contain contradictions within their own positions. It is an analysis that focuses on broad trends and forces. It is important because once you focus on this conception of class, you see that, when it comes to economic matters, all the decision making power is essentially contained within one of the classes. This analysis is important because without it, you end up making moral appeals to people who have virtually no decision making power at all and relying on moral calls to a class which operates according to a system of profit which doesn’t include a moral dimension at all.

Never, chekov! The scales fall from my eyes as I reflect upon a lifetime wasted without this particular analysis, both within and now – in part – beyond Marxism… 😉

Actually, there’s a fair few Marxists who would be entirely at home with your first sentence, Gramsci being only the most obvious example. My problem with the other part of the paragraph is that it is effectively self-defining and self-referential. That’s fine, if one is involved in a smallish area of political activity – and I have been, and in some ways remain, that soldier both here and more importantly on the street. But in the broader environment of life as it is lived it has little or no traction and therefore although useful (indeed crucial) as an analytical tool, it is of only limited use in application. Or, like all theoretical constructs it is but a representation of a situation/environment/context. It’s not the actuality. Between those two points, representation and reality I find enough wriggle room for my own political response and sufficient space to be able to entertain the obvious contradictions between ideology and implementation. And that’s the contradiction at the heart of the Green Party in government which I have no problem in pointing to, but refuse to draw such apocalyptic/entirely cynical conclusions of the utter futility of the exercise as you and Conor.

You end up appealling for developers to be nice – which is totally pointless since the one who ignores you is the one who will prosper and end up building the houses. You also end up appealling for people who are just about surviving and staying sane to make sacrifices which will have virtually zero effect anyway.

There is a thing called legislation. It binds and it ties. It is some way distant from simple ‘appeals’ to good nature. And the beauty of it is that it can impact on both the powerful and the not so powerful in order to shape societal ends. I like the idea (despite not being happy with the original decision by the GP to go into coalition and foreswear the broader left) that we have two and a half Ministers who might, in some small way have an impact on that legislation.

Incidentally, while we’re at it, do you know what has been achieved by the GP in the past number of months?

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51. chekov - February 21, 2008

WBS, my lengthy description of what I mean by class was in response to a previous comment by yourself in which it was apparent that you had misunderstood what I had meant. Your retort is mildly patronising.

In any case, I know perfectly well that there is a thing called legislation, but as Conor has pointed out, without rebuttal, the greens have not used it. I do know what has been achieved by the GP in the past number of months – they have put out a bunch of press releases claiming credit for the stuff that their departments normally do. I’m quite willing to change my mind on this if you can point out something concrete that they have actually done (the potatoes don’t count).

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52. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

Erm… no more patronising than yours to me… and at least leavened with a smiley of sorts on my part which was absent from yours.

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53. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

As regards rebutting Conor’s point, we’re half a year into a coalition with Green party involvement. I’m not expecting miracles, I don’t from representative politics. I don’t think it’s enough what they’ve done – a few areas strike me as useful such as the reform of VRT and motor tax, the review of archaeological procedures may reap dividends and if they can push local government reform in any way that will be a plus. But to repeat, I’m not a cheerleader for them, merely pointing out why I think they made a rational decision by their lights to enter government and why I think the criticism here is over egged. My feeling is that it’s better to have at least one semi-progressive force onside in the government, however isolated than none. You clearly differ, that’s grand.

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54. chekov - February 21, 2008

Sorry, WBS, I probably got a bit heated there. My apologies.

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55. WorldbyStorm - February 21, 2008

No reason to apologise chekov, I was getting a tad overly sarcastic too…

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56. Straws in the wind… Nationalisation returns in the UK, Fianna Fáil drop plans to privatise bus routes in Dublin. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - February 22, 2008

[…] one is (and in this is something I go some way with analysis by Conor and chekov in their previous comments without necessarily sharing their conclusion), but I’m remain to be […]

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57. John Green - February 25, 2008

On the class thing, without wanting to labour the point and make this look like political theory 101, my understanding of the distinction between Marxist and anarchist conceptions of class was always that Marxists prioritised class relations over other forms of power relations, so that sexual inequality, political inequalities, racial inequalities and so on could be explained by, if not reduced to, infrastructural economic forces; the idea of a cultural superstructure ultimately determined by an economic substructure. I know there are plenty of Marxists who have acknowledged the inadequacy of this model inasmuch as they recognize that cultural forces can affect economic relations, but I always understood that they have nevertheless always maintained the primacy of the economic. If not, how do they continue to consider themselves Marxists or what distinguishes their position from an anarchist view that all power relationships are permeated through and through by other social forces: that, contra Engels, economic relationships do NOT precede sexual, political, racial or other relationships but are conditioned by them in a reciprocal relationship: in order to eat, drink, find shelter etc., humans must first engage in politics, locate and embed themselves in a recognized place in the social and sexual structure, and so on.

I’ve been reading too much Michael Albert. Sorry for the interruption. Do carry on.

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58. John Green - February 25, 2008

Question mark required after “and so on.” Just spotted it.

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59. WorldbyStorm - February 25, 2008

No, that’s really interesting because it gets to the heart of our politics. I’m fairly agnostic about these issues. I think sometimes it’s better to ascribe forces to power relationships which manifest across various scales, but the danger there is psychobabble which is hardly an improvement on economism.

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60. John - February 26, 2008

Hi WBS–

I used to be quite agnostic about it too, and back in the early 80s Iwhen I first encountered anarcho-syndicalism in the UK, it was a kind of First Internationalist “Marxist economics plus anarchist politics.” But the more anthropology I’ve read, the more tenuous I’ve come to regard the Marxist position. Moreover, ascribing separate interests to the state, instead of regarding it as JUST the executive committee of the Bourgeoisie, renders the entire Miliband-Poulantzas debate about the relative autonomy of the state a non-issue; it doesn’t require explaining.

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61. WorldbyStorm - February 26, 2008

I think I’ve mentioned it before I’ve always liked anarcho-syndicalism. But… beyond that… Marxism strikes me as a sometimes useful methodological approach. I like your point about the executive committee of the Bourgeoisie!

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